Do you remember the furore over EA’s forum bans that stopped people being able to activate their games? It was a mess of terrible public relations, over-zealous use of the banhammer and pretty crappy after sales service.
In that instance, a gamer had been handed a 72 hour ban from EA’s forums, breaking his EA user account which meant that he was also denied access to his online EA games and prevented from activating his single player Dragon Age II game.
EA did accept that they had gone a little too far, saying that the incident was a mistake and that they would revoke the ban of the user in question and take measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. It seems as though that hasn’t been the case.[drop2]According to a lengthy item over on RockPaperShotgun, there has been multiple cases of forum bans, for various reasons, which have also resulted in the banned user losing out on access to the game they’ve paid for. Now, sidestepping the legal and moral minefield that questions how acceptable it is to block content a user has paid for, forum accounts should be totally separate from gaming accounts. That’s not my own view either, it’s what EA clearly intended when they referred to it as a “mistake” previously this year.
The examples quoted in the RPS piece induce varying degrees of sympathy. In one example, a man is handed a ban after linking to a blog with a guide to help people with Battlefield 3 connection issues. EA said he posted a “commercial” which is clearly a little bit mental.
Another example sees a guy openly posting a thread about “teabagging” which is not only a really stupid thing to do in online gaming, it’s not really appropriate for a family-friendly forum. Perhaps in this case the guy deserved a little forum suspension to remind him that some things just aren’t cool. But does he deserve to have his ability to play his game online removed too?
And then there’s the guy who had his EA forums account banned permanently for using the term “e-peen”. This shortening of “electronic penis” is a term often used to mock those that think their virtual achievements are worth bragging about – online willy waving to act like there’s something to be proud of or belittle other players. The guy didn’t even introduce it to the thread, he replied to another user who had also used the term. Banned, permanently. Now he can’t access any of the EA Origin games he’s paid for.
Quite aside from the debate about validity of the forum bans, this issue of forum misdemeanors leading to rights being revoked is one which should not be ignored.
I get that you pay for a license, rather than simply the physical goods when you buy a game. I understand that just because you bring a disc home from a shop or make a charge on your credit card, that doesn’t give you the rights to use that content in whichever way you see fit – you only have rights to use it as per the license agreement. I might like a little more freedom in that regard but I can understand why publishers might be quite protective and cautious about it. I’ll lose a lot of sympathy for publishers if they start getting heavy handed or using license removals to enforce compliance elsewhere on their networks.
Banning people from forums is one thing, especially if you’re trying to keep a family-friendly atmosphere, but when that crosses over into revoking licenses they’ve paid for, I get quite uncomfortable with that. Add to that the seemingly random and bizarre reasoning behind EA’s bans and I think we have quite a worrying situation.